Spirituality and moral precepts
I have been trying to understand the idea of spirituality. To me spirituality had always meant to want to believe in something fanciful, like a god or a psychic. So I went to the dictionary:
<spir•it•u•al•i•ty> 1. the quality or fact of being *spiritual*. 2. incorporeal or immaterial nature. 3. predominantly spiritual character as shown in thought, life, etc.; spiritual tendency or tone.
<spir•it•u•al> 1. of, pertaining to, or consisting of *spirit*; incorporeal. 2. of or pertaining to the spirit or *soul*, as distinguished from the physical nature
<spir•it> 1. the *principle* of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and *soul*. 2. the incorporeal part of humans 3. the soul regarded as separating from the body at death.
<soul> 1. the *principle* of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part. 2. the spiritual part of humans regarded in its *moral* aspect, or as believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come 3. the disembodied spirit of a deceased person 4. the emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments.
<prin•ci•ple> 1. an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct 2. a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived 3. a fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion 4. principles, a personal or specific basis of conduct or management 5. guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct.
<moral> of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong
<ethic> a complex of *moral* precepts held or rules of conduct followed by an individual
*So spirituality is the incorporeal principle of life, contained in the soul, concerning the rules of right conduct that make up ones ethical framework.*
I don’t believe there is an incorporeal principle of life, so I am not spiritual. If I understand this correctly, spiritual people rely on something entirely different than me in designing their ethical framework. But how can that be? How can we arrive at the same moral principles? Either we are all spiritual or none of us are. I am inclined to think our sense of right and wrong is *instinctive* in the biological evolution sense.
<in•stinc•tive>1. of, pertaining to, or of the nature of *instinct*. 2. prompted by or resulting from or as if from instinct; natural; unlearned.
<in•stinct>1. an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species. 2. a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency. 3. a natural aptitude or gift. 4. natural intuitive power.
Is it possible to be spiritual without being aware of it?
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I diagree, fear is an emotion that evokes instinct, not the other way around. Granted it is a primal emotion (I think THE most primal) but an emotion nontheless. Certain animals are capable of fear but only as far as they have the cerebellum development for it. Self preservation is an instinct but this is distinguished from fear. Creatures exhibit self preservation because their instinct causes such, but the process does not necessarily evoke fear in the creature. This is evident because creatures without emotion (those with little or no cerebellum)scatter but creatures with emotion occasionally freeze, as a bi-product of fear.
There is a recent thread called ego death. I say in that “To me spirituality is not so much the discipline of ego, though that is a factor, but rather when the ego and the conscience can co-exist without irreconcilable conflict”. But there are a lot of labels that we snag ourselves on that in themselves prevent us from knowing the true meaning.
@Ray – Hopefully someone else will wade in on this because otherwise we will have to agree to disagree. There are many animals that freeze in response to danger. It’s a product of their evolution that permitted their survival.
I think there is a duality within us, one emotional and one intellectual. Conscience is emotional and ego is intellectual. But I have a saying “at our core we are emotional beings, thought is but a satellite in orbit”, so although we can build up an intellectual conscience based on what we have learned through our own reasoning or been taught or told by others, we have this feeling within our emotions that tells us if something is wrong.
Even if we have done everything right according to this intellectual and often common belief of learned morality, we may feel guilt. This is because what was learned is actually wrong. Guilt is an emotional reaction of the conscience, the true conscience, not the ego designed artificial conscience learned.
As much as we can think, there is what is called “gut feeling” intuition which is another emotional reaction of the conscience. These are always right if you can tune to them, if they are wrong then this means your ego over-rode the message to it’s cause or preference.
The ego is incredibly useful because with out it we can not think, but remember we are emotional beings at our core and to be true to that the ego must not create conflict with the conscience otherwise one will have to go and then, either way, you are but half a human being.
Ok, bad example. Fear is still an emotion though, not an instinct, that I know, not sure how, obviously, but I know it is. Fear is part of the basic adrenaline function in animals, the animals that do not have an adrenal gland do not experience fear and also have little or no cerebellum.
I would say that we are both instinctive and intellectual. Emotion can be evoked from either. Our instinct resides in the subconscious mind, whereas our intellect resides in the conscious mind. If we are sensitive to our instincts then our intellect will develop in harmony with them. Our intuition is the product of the relationship between our instinct and our intellect. Conflict arises when there is disharmony. Ego causes an insensitivity to one’s instincts and therefore the potential for disharmony and conflict.
You say, “To me spirituality is not so much the discipline of ego, though that is a factor, but rather when the ego and the conscience can co-exist without irreconcilable conflict”. Here you define spirituality as a condition which, I believe, is the same as saying that spirituality is the condition of harmony (or lack thereof) between instinct and intellect. This would put spirituality on a scale that ranges from total harmony to total disharmony, but with no mechanism to distinguish between the points on the scale.
That’s why I think it is important to ground ourselves in those things that we know to be true. By developing sensitivity to our subconscious instincts we are grounding ourselves in reality proper, and our intellect will be free to develop grounded moral precepts.
Ahhh so I have to admit–I started to read the whole thread. Really, I did. But sometimes being Yin and bubbly means having ADD and just wanting to jump up and down and all around and to address only a few of the things you read…
So here goes: there is the part of the brain that is the innermost and near the back where things like the fight or flight emotion is housed. That is a very primal area and I feel it no longer really serves us. We are better than having only those two not-always-the-best-option options and we aren’t about to be eaten by a dinosaur so we don’t have to run.
I just know that with spirituality people can confuse religion and ‘moral obligations’ or whatever you want to call them. I honestly think that morals (which are often completely skewed and twisted remnants of what people would have once considered the “right thing” to do) are often mislabeled as the ‘right thing to do’ and we seriously have to throw out morality and start fresh with the universe and honoring it and everybody and thing in it to truly reach our spiritual plane of existence…
I hope that makes sense. It does to me. xD
Well said Dick. I just mean that when we feel guilt it is a sign of conflict between conscience and ego, which is caused by ego. If you can discipline the ego in such a way that it (the ego) does not cause you to feel guilt then you have achieved spirituality. But one should not confuse separation from the conscience, therefore no effective guilt, as spirituality. Because the concience is emotional, if you retain emotion yet are abscent of guilt, chances are you are spiritual, but if you have no emotion then chances are you have separated from the conscience.
You have an interesting take that I will consider.
Carl Jung defined five instinctive groupings: creativity, reflection, activity, sexuality and hunger. Self-preservation is the primary function of the ego complex–the purpose of the ego is to ensure the survival of the biological organism. Hunger would then be associated with self-preservation.
Fear, according to Plutchik, is one of the eight primary emotions, paired with anger. The others being: joy/sadness, anticipation/surprise and trust/disgust.
Instincts and emotions are not the same thing, nor is there a convenient, causal relationship between them. Jung defines “instinct” as “an involuntary drive toward certain activities.” Emotions, however, are “an involuntary reaction due to an active complex.”
An instinct can generate fear, as a patterned response, to inform the ego to take action to prevent injury or death. For example, hunger + no food available = fear of starvation, so go hunting.
Fear can also trigger instinctive patterns, when a “higher” programmed activity does not exist. For example, someone throws a rock at your face–you yell, “yikes” and duck.
It is a two-way street. @ray and @dick–you are both right; I do not see a disagreement, just two, opposite perspectives of the same thing–the “man in the mirror” viewpoints.
Lol, thanks Bruce, I’m not a biologist. Does this mean that ego exists in all life forms? Because you say the primary function of the ego complex is self preservation, even micro organisms demonstrate basic survival behaviours, including eating and reproducing.
I don’t like to include instinct in this debate bacause instinct is sucking on your mums tit, it is breathing and blinking. Instinct is a function of the cereberal cortex not the cerebellum, as thought and emotion. Instinct is not emotion or thought. Intuition is not an instinct it is an emotion. These are higher functions.
@Ray “Does this mean that ego exists in all life forms?”
When “ego” is defined as a survival function, then yes, all life has the impetus to survive. After all, if it didn’t survive, then it wouldn’t be alive and wouldn’t count!
I like Jung’s perspective, because it clarifies ego-centrism considerably by putting it into a survival context and allow differentiation of self-centrism.
@Ray “even micro organisms demonstrate basic survival behaviours, including eating and reproducing.”
As they say, “size doesn’t matter!”
I’ve got this little 4GB USB stick sitting here in front of me. When I was working with computers back in the 1970s, a tiny device that could hold SO much data was totally inconceivable. A 10KB “core” memory was the size of a washer-dryer pair. Yet, here it is. Given the trillions of atoms that compose a single cell, who knows how much data can be stored there? And that does not include the non-local information stored in “collectives”–group minds.
I think a lot can be learned from the microscopic kingdom, as it is much closer to the origin of life than the complex animal kingdom. The rules are inevitably simpler, but most likely still exist in the higher forms as “instincts.”
@bruce – Thanks for the concise and informative contribution.
“The soul is associated with the concept of “morality,” and the system of morals is derived from biological necessity (mating, fighting, social interaction, etc).”
I doubt many people would define “soul” in such a way. I have always regarded “soul” as a religious manifestation. What you say here supports what I was saying (or trying to say), that morality comes from within but can be corrupted by the intellect. It is the biological aspect that is the key in my mind. For most people their intellect is detached from their biological selves. Rather than using their instinct as the foundation for their morality they follow someone else’s packaged ideas. I believe that all of the world’s religions started as intellectual interpretations of instinct, then powerful people took ownership over the interpretations and had editorial control over their revisions and now we have a bunch of divisive morality camps.
Regarding instinct and emotion; I make the distinction of emotional fear and instinctive fear, emotional coming from the conscious mind and instinctive being hard wired. But then fear can be defined physiologically too.
@DIck: noumenal concepts, such as the spiritual, require a contextual framework in which to be described. Word definitions alone do not get you very far, as the term is too subjective. In modern interpretation, spiritual is usually associated with the movement of Qi or Prana (as in sex being a “spiritual” experience).
Pre-”New Age” systems have a more formalized structure for the spiritual. My perspective, based on studies of the concept going back as far as 13th century Asatru, show common factors: biological organisms are composed of three components: corpus, anima and animus–the body, soul and spirit. (Soul is often equated with “mind,” particularly in the New Age “Mind/Body/Spirit” function.)
Corpus is the physical body, including chemical and electro-magnetic effects. Concepts associated with the body are the basic physical laws that we attribute to all inanimate structure.
Anima is the soul, what “animates” the corpus into a living organism. As such, the soul is still considered to be physical, but just invisible. The anima is normally associated with light or heat (the “fire of life”, actually qi, ch’i or prana), whereas the corpus is associated with earth and water (the chemicals and fluids of the body). The soul is associated with the concept of “morality,” and the system of morals is derived from biological necessity (mating, fighting, social interaction, etc).
The animus is the spirit, not to be confused with the soul. It literally means “spirit”–or “intellect”–in Latin. The animus is nonphysical, a development OF life, not the cause of it. It is associated with the element of air and it is from the animus that we obtain the concept of “ethics.” Ethics are NOT driven by biological necessity (as morality is), but by reason. The spirit and intellect are basically synonymous.
“Spirituality” occurs when a person uses their intellect in combination with introspection to understand themselves–for it is then that they understand all the rules that went into their makeup, and can also begin to see it in others. It is at this point where the old phrase, “do unto others, as you would have others do unto you” has meaning.
Finally we can agree Dick, ha, I believe morality is corrupted by intellect. I also believe people reject this natural sense of morality and conform to the common requirements that these packages demand. Really there is no following your heart, intuition, morality instinct or even intellect in these pre-requisite faiths. Any descision of consequence is pre-ordained. This is not the sign of spirituality in imo. (this morality we are discussing now is one and the same as this conscience I have been hung up on in fact I feel heart, morality and conscience are the same thing, even intuition as well)
there are so many spirtual people that are unaware of it and never make a big deal out of it. they are not even religious but are just plain old good hearted people. for me these are the most spiritual people around.
look out for them, they can make your day shine!
there are lots of other people who practice some sort of religion or practice all their lives who are just plain assholes and grouches. i know a few Buddhists like that and they are a real pain to be around.
so sprirtuality often can be mistaken , i think one finds it in simple and humble and kind folks.
I have heard the distinction between morals and ethics put this way “The ethical man knows he should not cheat on his wife, the moral man does not cheat on his wife” Ethics a matter of knowing versus morals being actions. Just when you say biological necessity versus reason it does not sound like an advocation of moral behaviour.
@Dick: [I doubt many people would define “soul” in such a way]: I tend to stick with the definitions used by the founders of psychology–a bit “19th century”, I know, but there is a great deal of published material for further inquiry, if the topic is of interest. And I concur; these days, everyone defines things in their personal weltanschauung. Easier to have misunderstandings that way! :-)
@Ray: [I believe morality is corrupted by intellect]: By the same logic, the intellect would also form the basis of ethical behavior. One can easily rationalize abominable acts (see “Politics”), whereas ethics cannot be rationalized, as they are reasoned behavior.
In all cases, it still comes down to how you define the terms in question: morality, ethics, spirituality, religion, feelings, thinking, intuition, sensation… to communicate effectively these days, you almost have to ignore the words and get an understanding of the concept behind the word.
I feel like there is a dichotomy in the definition of spirituality. It’s more than just a word, yet not a word at all– at the same time. It’s a concept, and all words are merely representations of concepts. Although there is disparity, there is an allure–something that keeps you alive and ready to inhale your next breath–this belief can be something as minute as being courteous to your neighbor.
@Ray – I do need to get boned up on my neuroscience… I agree that instinct is not emotion. As I said before, emotion is an evocation of both instinct and intellect. Fear is an instinct that evokes emotion, as is a baby crying for milk. We can suppress fear so, by extension, we can suppress instinct. We can also suppress our autonomic nervous system.
I need to ponder on the limitations/merits of instinct as a filter for right and wrong…
@bruce – Interesting. So in that context I am spiritual along with everyone else. I will ponder this too. Gotta go to my piano lesson.
So now I have two new definitions for spiritual; a label that we attach to a notion of purpose; and, good heartedness or *catholic* benevolence.
It is interesting to me that none of the responses spoke to the dictionary definition regarding morality. It seems, we have moved away from the traditional definition and replaced it. It is merely a label that we attach to a notion of purpose, individual or otherwise.
My personal notion of purpose is to approach life with catholic benevolence; others approach life with a notion of purpose defined in ancient texts and ritual, and others defined by other popular notions. So the moral precepts that make up our ethical framework are based on our perceived notion of purpose. It follows that having such a broad range of perceived purpose should result in a broad range of moral precepts; and indeed it does.
I have spoken to the notion of purpose for existence versus individual purpose in another thread, so won’t go into it here.
I would like to emphasize, though, that morals are not the exclusive property of the spiritually minded, in the conventional sense of the word (as I have inferred from many posts on this site). I propose that morality is inherent in every individual in so much that we have a notion of right from wrong in the complete absence of reverence to existing doctrines, and that preconceived notions will limit the development of moral precepts that will benefit humanity, as is evidenced by the global prevalence of sacred violence and persecution.